Friday, December 29, 2017

Holiday Lessons from an Impoverished Retailer (Tradecraft)

I went into the holidays lean. When I say lean, it means the $10,000 I should have spent on board games was tied up in Iconic Masters. It also meant that with construction debt, I had a small appetite for risk when it came to stocking up. We had a Just in Time (JIT) holiday season and there were a few tactics I found helpful.

It wouldn't be uncommon for me to go into temporary holiday debt of up to $20,000 of solid product, primarily board games. Not this year. This year was lean, and there were lessons learned that I think could translate to other retailers, especially new ones.

The Dumping
We dumped a lot of overstock, especially on Black Friday. However, we later discovered we were getting requests for this dumped product throughout the holiday season. When we left one on the shelf, we found we were re-ordering this supposedly dead stock, often multiple times. What this reinforced was trying to corner the market on scarce product was skewing my sense of what product was working and what wasn't. Bringing in six of a product and having only one sell after a month is a disaster, as opposed to bringing in one of that same game and having to re order it once, which, is not great, but not terrible. Not everyone is tied into what's hot on release and not everyone can shop the sale.

Living with scarcity may be how we handle 2018. I really don't care if we run out, to be honest. With 10 new board games a day, something else will be along shortly. This is especially true with the reprint. Reprints sunk a lot of retailers this year, as in once the bloom is off that flower after the initial print run, a lot of caution is in order on the reprint. We got burned on so many games like this. People would ask for Terraforming Mars twice a day when it was out of print, but when it was in print? It sold fine, but not great, which is no help when you have a dozen copies on the shelf. We had a lot of these 6-12 games on the shelf in November, so we dumped them, some too early.

Breadth of Suppliers
We have many supplier accounts, all with solid terms or credit card options. This costs nothing for a store to arrange, yet many small stores seem to spend an inordinate amount of time worrying if they should have a second or third supplier. Sign up with everyone. When we couldn't get a game from our usual suppliers, we called Lion Rampant in Canada. They push the envelope on the term tertiary supplier, being someone I call for a particular children's game or a special order of card supplies. Having many options allowed me to fill in holes. There was no way I was going to set up new accounts in December.

What I didn't do this year is chase alternate warehouses. I shopped my local warehouses only to keep supply arrival predictable and orders orderly. We did well into six figures in sales this month, which meant roughly $55K in games, divided by 20 shipping days, equalling daily orders of around $2,750 with roughly $400 of games at wholesale per box. I mention this math because it meant seven big boxes arrived every day that needed to be processed by stressed out staff. Having some small order arrive from a podunk warehouse a week after we placed it, maybe even after Christmas, is a waste of time. If we couldn't get the game from an alternate supplier, we ignored it. We also ignored the flavor of the month, as in What Do You Meme? as it just didn't percolate up to Cards Against Humanity levels of desirability versus ass pain.

The Chase Card
Like customers buying a lot of junk to find that one card, we avoided the trap of putting in orders for the sake of one missing game. For example, I really wanted Codenames back in stock for the holidays, but Lion Rampant, the only supplier who had it, required a large order for the Codenames order to make sense. I could order a bunch of junk or a LOT of Codenames. I chose to put the order in late and get it after Christmas rather than buy overstock. In the past, I might cite customer service as the reason for making a foolish order, but not this year and I don't regret it.

The Daily Order
Ignoring alternate warehouses and chasing lost product meant I could methodically order every day like clockwork. Usually that meant putting the order in the night before to guarantee my order was picked and shipped on time. This is what I learned years ago smart retailers do during the holiday season, and believe me, suppliers appreciate it. We had some problems on the Black Friday restock, but all my December orders shipped on time without delay from every supplier. During the day I would create additional orders, which suppliers were free to add to the existing order or send separately whenever, but orders became a constant steady stream of those seven or so daily boxes.

Staff Picks
We created a sheet with staff picks of games we enjoyed in 2017. We used to sell a huge amount of games from the San Francisco Chronicle, but they stopped their holiday board game article a couple years ago. The Chronicle article was pretty terrible, but people would buy whatever was on that list. We replaced it with our own top picks. It doesn't drive people to the store like the Chronicle article, obviously, but it's a landing point for people who want to buy board game gifts, but don't know what to get. When you walk into the store, right in front of you, where our new release table would normally go, is a table of recommended games with a flyer for you to enjoy.

Games on the staff pick list were ones staff could actively sell (except me, because I slacked and hadn't played any of them), and were likely to be evergreen products. That meant we could go a little (but not a lot) deeper on these titles without feeling stuck with them later. Oh man, did we ever get stuck with Chronicle games. I recall games we would put on clearance on December 26th with notations never to order this piece of garbage again. But it was in the newspaper, so it must be true, right?

New Releases
As a side note, if you're a publisher putting out new releases close to Christmas, know that I hate your face. We do not have time or energy to give your product the attention it deserves, nor do we have the mental capacity to handle special orders, especially if your staff are going on vacation and we have to deal with Rudy, the overworked fill in guy, who is doing us a favor.  We enshrine new releases throughout the year, putting them on throne-like tables and showering them with marketing kindness. When you release a game in December, it goes into Gen Pop, and I can't vouch for what happens to it out there.

That's it!
We did well. Our sales are up modestly from last December. We're paying off a big chunk of debt this week and I may have money for my vacation. We hit a major sales milestone this year, pushing us well into seven figures. Mission accomplished. Overstock avoided. Open to Buy in balance.

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